Thursday, May 10, 2007

Management fads and business books

Nothing is so banal or so stupid that it can't be picked up and used as the basis for a 'management textbook.' The Economist blog thinks they know why:

How can we tell which CEO's are stars, and how much they really bring to the bottom line? In part it's so difficult to determine because management theory is so awful... no one has any coherent idea of how one identifies a good CEO, or what good management practices are, which is why the business bookshelves are crowded with banalities set in big type for the casual airplane reader.

(Nothing is so stupid that it cannot be made into a framework for analysing your business; when I tried to freelance a parody piece on business book titles, I was stymied by the fact that the most outlandish ideas I could come up with—"Management secrets of the Carmelite Nuns"—had already actually been made into books by some optimistic editor. The only idea which had not already made it into print in some very similar form was "How to make a killing in business: Strategic secrets of America's greatest serial killers". No doubt it is forthcoming from Harcourt Brace this year.)

This got local blogger Jim Donovan thinking about some Kiwi variants [hat tip DPF]:

  • The Jerry Collins Guide to Ambush Marketing
  • Building a Global Brand on a Limited Budget, by Nicole Begg (Hang on, she’s just done that)
And he's offered a prize for "the best Kiwi business book title in the genre of Management secrets of the Carmelite Nuns and How to make a killing in business: Strategic secrets of America’s greatest serial killers" -- well, a small prize. Some of the best so far, from both Jim's and DPF's:
  • Economics for Dummies, by Michael Cullen
  • The Buyers Guide to Elections (2007 Revevised Version), by Helen Clark
  • Bran Flake, by Dick Hubbard
  • Downsizing your Business, and Yourself, By Rodney Hide
  • Corporate Uniformity: Brand Enforcement, by the Mongrel Mob
  • The Rickards Way: Secrets of Team Building from the Team Policing Specialists, by Clint Rickards and Brad Shipton
  • Being a Team Player, by Ali Williams (as told to Bill Ralston)
  • Discipline in the Workplace, S. Bradford
  • Ganging Up On Your Competitors, T. Turia
  • Guaranteed Returns: A Guide to Property and Foreign Exchange Investment, by Dr A. Bollard
  • Kyoto…A beginners guide, by P. Hodgson
  • Negotiation: How to Give it All Away, by John Key
Any others?

UPDATE: All joking aside, and far be it for me to disagree with such an august periodical as The Economist, but while it's true that most management theory is awful, it's not true to say that it's impossible to identify a good CEO.

In fact, psychologist Edwin Locke -- internationally known for his research on goal setting (a recent survey found that Locke's goal setting theory was ranked #1 in importance among 73 management theories, none of them awful) -- has made a study of that very thing. His book, The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators does exactly what it says: it studies the great wealth creators to understand the traits needed to be a walking, talking, thinking engine of production. Introducing the book, banker John Allison says,
Dr. Locke is unequivocally clear that productive geniuses from Thomas Edison to Bill Gates are the Prime Movers of human progress. While these men amassed great fortunes, they raised the standard of living for all of us...

What characteristics enabled these men to make such a significant contribution? These great creators have the capacity to see the big picture trends others cannot foresee -- vision. They have active and independent minds with an undying commitment to action, the capacity to make rational decisions based on the facts, the ability to judge ability in others, and the willingness to reward superior contributions by others. These attributes produce a level of confidence and competence that leads to success.

Dr. Locke's view is radically different from the common belief that progress more or less happens automatically or is the result of some undefined collective effort. Dr. Locke sees a relatively small number of outstanding individuals who make a disproportionate contribution to human well-being...

If the characteristics that Dr. Locke discusses have contributed to these individuals' success, we should teach these attributes to our children. Clearly, the foundation attribute is an unwavering commitment to make independent, rational decisions based on the facts-which is the ultimate form of honesty.
For the full menu of traits Locke identifies, you'll need to read his book for yourself. Unlike most of the titles above, it really is worth it.

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